Vocal Abuse

What Is Vocal Abuse?

Jocelyn answers your questions.

Over the years I have enjoyed teaching hundreds of children and adults to sing. Occasionally a student will come my way who displays the telltale signs of "vocal abuse."

While the word "abuse" usually implies somebody doing something hurtful to someone else, in this case, it pertains to a person's own habits of voice use (usually over-use), even if he or she does not intend to be self-abusive.

If you feel you/your child would benefit from some special attention to your/your child's vocal habits and some special care in dealing with them, please read on.

Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with talent, intelligence or ability (innate or learned). No matter what a person is born with or taught, there are basic standards of vocal ability in all humans. If you or your child can not meet and sustain these standards, something needs to be done.

Being able to:
  • sing 2-3 octaves;
  • glide your voice in a sweep from high to low or low to high without crackling;
  • vary the quality and volume in order to be emotionally expressive.
This may be difficult to ascertain on your own. I would be happy to demonstrate it in a quick phone call: 615-383-8516.

Listen or feel for:
  • hoarseness - feeling like you've lost your voice;
  • chronic laryngitis - a tight, scratchy, husky or raspy quality to the voice;
  • broken line or cracking vocal tone while speaking or singing;
  • the inability to use the upper register in speech or song, or a range limited to only a few pitches.
Any or all of the following:
  • inflammation of the vocal folds;
  • excess and possibly infected phlegm;
  • a tear (cut) or hemorrhage on the vocal cords;
  • growths on the cords – polyps, bilateral nodules (nodes), cysts;
  • vocal cord paralysis.
Certain personality types can be more prone to vocal abuse. Physical things you might do include:
  • speaking or singing too high or too low, too loud or too soft, for too long;
  • habits usually associated with yelling, shouting, screaming, squealing;
  • excess throat, neck or shoulder tension;
  • speaking in a vocal fry (glottal fry) register;
  • impersonating famous singers;
  • picking up another person's bad vocal habits;
  • excessive throat clearing or coughing.
Medical- or substance-related causes include:
  • allergic reactions;
  • prolonged illness;
  • serious medical condition;
  • gastric reflux;
  • endotracheal intubation;
  • tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

There are many qualified vocal professionals who can properly diagnose and prescribe a "cure" to help the situation. Lessons with an experienced voice teacher can put you on the right track. Sometimes it is helpful to visit a voice therapist for physical rehabilitation. This is not the same as a speech-language pathologist. But both can work with the injured voice.

If your condition is not acute, but chronic, it may be best to consult an ear-nose-throat doctor (otolaryngologist) right away. Make sure you choose an E.N.T. whose specialty is the throat. You can call the Vanderbilt Voice Center (615-343-7464) for information and referrals.

Don't worry. You can often regain vocal health and ease with a few weeks of vocal rest and a change in habits. The natural healing power of the human body is truly amazing. There are many kitchen remedies (see Great Granny Kasper's Kitchen Cures below) that are healing or soothing to a sore throat or common cold.

Some singers and actors like to experiment with special vocal effects (cry, belt, growl, etc.). These techniques are best studied with the help of a vocal professional to ensure a lifetime of vocal health.

Please feel free to call me (615-383-8516) if you have any questions or need further explanation on any of these issues.

Read more about hoarseness on this Pediatric Otolaryngology website.
Make sure you click on their fun "Kids Corner," too!

Great Granny Kasper's Kitchen Cures


  • lots of filtered water (without ice);
  • herbal teas (not too hot);
  • squeezed juice from a real lemon.


  • a spoonful of honey (not washed down afterwards);
  • lots of raw, fresh garlic (sliced thin on tomatoes with olive oil, or simply chewed);
  • grated raw, fresh ginger root in your tea or soup, or make ginger soup by boiling slices in water.

Don't eat:

  • salty, spicy, nutty, or milky foods before reclining, before a vocal performance, or when throat feels sore.

Also try:

  • Ricola cough drops;
  • hot salt water gargle;
  • warm salt water nasal irrigation;
  • a steam inhaler; or simply hold your head above a pot of boiling water, capturing the steam with an open towel over your head, inhaling deeply (but carefully!) through both nose and mouth;
  • for a terrible laryngitis, wrap rags soaked in apple cider vinegar around the neck and cover with plastic wrap and an old towel; put another towel over your pillow, then go to bed and sweat it out! Be careful – acid can burn.

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